Cross country flying and the State of Origin competition.
So….. You’re a member of a predominantly coastal club, probably learned to fly at a coastal site, and are thoroughly enjoying ridge soaring.
You’ve probably heard stories of pilots flying, inland, in air that felt like being inside a washing machine, ballistic thermals, collapses, maybe even reserve throws and other frightening stuff.
Why ever would you want to fly cross country?????
A good question!
Perhaps we should address the negative stuff before answering it.
Are the stories real and will you be exposing yourselves to all of this frightening stuff?
Compared to flying on the coast in sea breeze compression zones, Inland air is much more dynamic. The wind direction and strength often changes at different heights. There can be areas of sinking air as well as areas in which the air is rising and the rate of movement of this air, both downwards and upwards, can vary greatly. Landing areas can be much more challenging than the parks and beaches that you are accustomed to and (somewhat inconveniently) they are rarely next to where you parked your car!
These and other departures from your usual environment need to be considered and understood but your exposure to them can be managed and your introduction to cross country flying should be an enjoyable and exciting experience.
By choosing to fly outside of the summer months and not flying in the strongest part of the day you can greatly reduce the risk of encountering those unpleasant conditions.
By planning your route and flying with more experienced pilots you can give yourself better landing options and, if you can con, bribe or embarrass someone into retrieve driving, you can bring the car to the right spot too! If you want to gain some huge karma points, before venturing into XC flying, volunteer to retrieve drive. You’ll experience first-hand just how pumped up pilots can be, desperate to tell someone about their flight and to share what they learned from it.
If you want a good opportunity to fly in lighter conditions, have experienced company who will help to plan your route and encourage you along it, and if you would like to fly with lots of other enthusiastic pilots, then the State of Origin competition ( Held each Easter at Manilla NSW) ticks all the boxes and is designed primarily as a way to introduce pilots to XC flying.
So, back to the important question; why fly inland?
The major difference compared with coastal flying is the vertical aspect. Climbing in a thermal can get you high, (Sometimes very high!), and with this height comes several things;
You get a GREAT view of some amazing countryside (just check out some of the pictures and videos online) and, more importantly, you have the option to convert the height into forward distance.
The next, and most exciting, difference is that you have the potential to travel in any direction. This is the part that opens up the challenge that makes XC flying so rewarding (and, at times, so frustrating). If you can choose a direction whereby you can reach another thermal, and then regain your height, you can repeat the action and extend your flight. The technical part is reading the clues (which your eyes, your instruments and your knowledge present you with) and interpreting them correctly. Analysing a landscape, its topography, the areas which are in sunshine or shadow then visualising the flow of air across it and predicting where the thermals are likely to kick off takes a bit of practice. Backing your assessment can take courage when the prediction takes you away from the road below and puts you at risk of a long walk, but the rush you get when you prove yourself right is well worth that risk. It won’t always work out but you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn from each flight and how quickly your self-confidence will grow.
The adventure rarely ends in the landing paddock. There are so many stories of pilots encountering real characters and getting novel lifts on tractors, quad bikes, back of police vans etc. Many have been invited in for a beer and occasionally even dinner before being given a lift. When you get back to your friends and chat about the day you can learn even more (such as why it’s not necessarily a great plan to land in the field with the lone cow, but how funny it is to land in the next one and watch your mate enjoy the encounter!). Cross country pilots are a friendly crowd and they all remember their first flights. You will find them supportive and ready to share their knowledge and there’s a good chance that you will make some great friends.
XC flying involves a lot more decision making than coastal flying and will challenge you in many ways. It will often leave you tired, frustrated and annoyed with yourself. Almost always, however, it will leave you exhilarated and desperate for the opportunity to do it all over again………..
Be warned, the most frightening thing about XC flying is that it’s ADDICTIVE.